No. 9 Penn State (15-3, 6-2) ended its seven-match losing streak to No. 5 Nebraska (15-3, 6-2) with a five-set win in State College on Saturday night.
Scores in Penn State’s favor were 25-22, 11-25, 26-24, 25-23 and 15-9. Thanks in large part to the dominant second set, the Huskers out-hit the Nittany Lions .210 to .172 with five more kills and out-blocked them 13 to 10. However, the Nittany Lions elevated their play down the stretch and Nebraska couldn’t match them.
Nia Reed led the way for the Nittany Lions with a career-high 20 kills on 70 attempts.
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun matched Reed with 20 kills of her own, also a career-high, and added nine digs. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke added 17 kills, 18 digs, four blocks and two aces. Sophomore outside hitter Jazz Sweet ripped in 10 kills but also committed 10 errors. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins finished with 10 kills on .471 hitting and five blocks.
Freshman Setter Nicklin Hames had 49 assists, 18 digs and two aces. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney led the team with 23 digs and sophomore defensive specialist Hayley Densberger used 11 digs.
Nebraska used a 6-1 run to take an 8-5 lead in set one but Penn State did a lot of the work for the Huskers with an error-filled start as Nebraska had just one kill to that point. Penn State started cleaning things up on their side got back into the game, taking a lead at 17-16. Nebraska answered with a 3-0 run then Penn State tied it at 19-19, 20-20, 21-21. Nebraska pulled ahead 22-21 but Penn State loses out the set on a 4-0 run.
Penn State committed 10 attack errors in the first set (to Nebraska’s five) but the Nittany Lions held a 17-8 edge in kills.
Nebraska turned things around in the second set, jumping out to a 9-5 lead then blowing the game open with a 10-1 run that put the Huskers up 20-8 before it came to an end. After trading points for a few rallies Nebraska closed out the game with back-to-back double-blocks.
The Huskers out-blocked the Nittany Lions five to none in the second set and committed just one attack error, out-hitting them .448 to .059. Left sides Foecke and Sun combined for eight kills and one error in the game.
Penn State started hot as Nebraska’s passing fell apart again a little bit and the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 9-6 lead behind six quick kills without an error.
Penn State got off to a hot start in set three, putting down six kills on their first 12 swings without an error to take a 9-6 lead. Nebraska regrouped with a timeout then clawed back into the match, tying it at 13-13. That started a streak of 16 straight sideouts before Nebraska finally managed to string together two straight points for a 21-20 lead. Penn State tied it up again on the next rally and ties at 22-all and 23-all followed.
Foecke had a chance to give the Huskers set point with a back-row attack but she put it just long to give Penn State a 24-23 lead. Sun tooled the block on the next rally to tie it up and Hames served her second ace to seal it.
The Huskers won despite allowing Penn State to hit .415 as the Nittany Lions only committed one attack error all set. Nebraska hit .386 itself with 21 kills. Sun had seven kill in the set.
Nebraska took the first two points of the fourth set but the Nittany Lions responded with seven straight including two aces by libero Kendall White, the first two aces of the match for Penn State. Nebraska fought back to tie the match at 13-all then used a 3-0 run to take a 19-16 lead after back-to-back kills by Sun. Penn State tied it again at 2-20 then took a 21-20 lead with an ace off the tape but gave it back with a service error on the next point.
A kill by Foecke gave the Huskers a 23-22 lead but Penn State closed out the set on a 3-0 run as the Nittany Lions tooled the Nebraska block then blocked a Nebraska attack to take set point and Sweet’s hit went wide to end it.
Penn State jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the fifth set thanks in part to two net touches called against the Huskers. Nebraska cut the gap to one with kills by Foecke and Sun but Penn State responded with a another 5-2 run to take a 10-6 lead, leading to Nebraska’s last timeout.
The Huskers simply couldn’t string points together, however, and a comeback was not in the cards. Penn State took five of the final eight rallies to end its losing streak to the Huskers and hand Nebraska its second loss in its last three matches. Penn State out-blocked Nebraska seven to five in the final two sets.
Nebraska’s road swing continues next week as the Huskers will head to Madison on Friday to take on Wisconsin and then to Minneapolis on Saturday for a rematch with the Gophers. Both are top-10 teams.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.